The White Elephant in the Room – Are Robots Taking Away Jobs?

Robotic Welders

by: Jay Fozwell

During the past 8-10 years (since the recession of 2008) there has been speculation suggesting the installation of hundreds of thousands of robots have slowed job recovery and that jobs have been taken. Adding to the speculation is the assertion that more jobs will be lost as robotic capabilities are improved and enhanced.

However, contrary to the speculations, a detailed study by Robotenomics shows that companies which have invested heavily in use of robots have substantially increased the jobs added to their payrolls.

Robotenomics’ research comes from legal corporate regulatory filings, such as annual financial reports, from over a 6-year period. From these reports, it was determined that 62 of the world’s largest manufacturing corporations who are heavy users of industrial robots are adding more jobs and employing more people than they did before the onset of the 2008 recession. In fact these companies have collectively added more than one million jobs.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of US manufacturers indicated that one third of manufacturers said that the biggest impact robots will have on the manufacturing workforce in the next three years is that they will lead to new job opportunities to engineer advanced robots and robotic operating systems. In the same survey about one in four felt the biggest impact would be “more demand for talent to manage the robotic workplace.” Amazon Vice President Mike Roth spoke of his belief that robots complement human labor – “The robots do not give jobs away. They make them more efficient… I see no way robotics are ever going to replace humans.”

Auto Manufacturers

The Robotenomics research study shows seven auto manufacturers who increased their number of employers were also adding new robots to their production floors at the same time. Quoted in the study is Richard Morris, vice president of assembly at the BMW Spartanburg plant – “Ideas come from people, and a robot is never going to replace that.” The person who does the robot programming and services the robots will make a substantial contribution to future car productivity.

Welding Robot Operator

The robotics industry continues to grow in North America according to a recent report from the Robotics Industries Association.

The Porsche Macan factory in Leipzig, Germany is one of the most advanced auto manufacturing facilities in the world and heavily automated with industrial robots. However, Porsche, who have seen a huge jump in the number of people employed over the last 6 years, emphasizes the importance of human workers in such an automated facility: “A total of 387 robots turn the body shop into an impressive sight. However, despite the high degree of automation, human workers are essential here, in particular for quality controls, systems operation and several manual tasks. In the body shop we rely on harmonic interaction between expert human labor and state-of-the-art technology.”

Toyota, another car manufacturer, and one that values long term employment uses thousands of robots in their facilities. They manufacture robots as well. “Toyota wants to provide a pleasant workplace for its workers and one that helps them feel good about their work. To create a pleasant environment for the workers, we use machines and robots for work that is dirty or requires a lot of strength. Also, since machines and robots can accurately repeat the tasks they are given on time, they are ideal for repetitive, precise tasks. This is why we use many machines and robots in the stamping, welding, and painting processes.” Toyota executives went on further to state “Tasks that require complex judgments, such as assembly and inspections, and those that require intuition and special expertise, are performed mainly by humans. We also need workers to operate the machines and robots. In this way, human workers and machines (robots) each do what they do best, working together to make high quality cars.”

Robotics are and will continue to help business reduce production and process inefficiency, and they will become more and more prevalent in many aspects of manufacturing and production. But the evidence shows that where robotic driven processes are invested in, so too is there an investment in people. Opportunities and employment growth are realized.

According to a United States Department of Labor study, 65% of children currently in primary school, when entering the workforce, will work jobs that are not in existence today. Undoubtedly, robotics is a growing technology area, and the proliferation of the use of robots is likely to be one of the key transformations in the workplace of the near future.

The conclusion drawn is that robots are not taking jobs away, nor are they going away. Their use will bring new opportunities in a changing workplace.

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